The issue I wish to examine is the controversial issue of Imamah – Divinely-Guided Leadership.
You can tell a vision from an illusion by close examination. "But the deeds of those who cover their perception to shield ignorance from the ego-annihilating effects of the Light of the Truth are like (a person moving towards) a mirage in the Desert; the thirsty one supposes it to be water until he comes up to it and finds that it is not." (Qur'an 24:39)
People thirsty for spiritual knowledge, wandering in the desert of worldliness, selfishness, and nationalism (tribalism, racism, sexism, elitism, materialism, intellectualism, ritualism, etc.) will run after an illusion and nearly (if not actually) deify the person who pointed them in the direction of the mirage. Then comes a person Allah sends who knows where the real oasis is. He or she tries to get the pitifully misguided people to stop and realize that this thing they think is real can be seen through. It lacks substance. It's illusionary. Undeniable proof makes it obvious that he or she is correct. Yet, that God-sent guide is often viewed with contempt and sometimes hostility, by mommy, daddy, preachers, teachers, governors, and their own children, students, disciples, and political constituents who have come to revere the illusion as unquestionable, infallible truth.
The issue I wish to examine is the controversial issue of Imamah – Divinely-Guided Leadership. I am not using this title, Imam (leader), generally. I am talking about the extremely high office, right next to Prophethood that can only be held by a man chosen by God, and His Messenger, and the Imam preceding him, starting with Ali, son of Abu Talib (peace be upon him). I contest that this is the office that preserved the real meaning of the Ummal Kitab (Mother of the Book) and the infallible Muhammadan explanations. I thus call you to a revolution of consciousness, conscience, and behavior.
No one can claim to believe in Allah and not believe in His Most High Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). The Message would not be known without this Most Truthful and Trustworthy Messenger, who never spoke without Allah's Infallible Permission. So many times in the Qur'an does Allah say, "Obey Allah, and His Messenger", "Obey Allah, and His Messenger", "Obey Allah and His Messenger." It does not say, "Obey Allah, and His Book." When we obey what is in the Book, we are obeying Allah. The Book is not Allah. But the Book is God's Infallible Word. Prophet Muhammad did not compose the Book. Allah composed the Book. And the Book commands us (I count 37 times) to obey Allah and His Messenger.
The obvious question is, how do we obey Allah's Messenger? He died 1400 years ago. We still greet him in prayers with salams, and he is the most revered man on earth. We still feel his presence. But he is no longer with us in the physical to guide by verbal orders or example. Does his death then abrogate these 37 verses revealed in the Holy Qur'an? Prophet Muhammad allegedly said, "I will leave you with two things that, if you follow them, you will not stray: The Book of God and…."
Here is where the controversy enters. Most Muslims believe that the second of the two things which the Prophet bequeathed to us is his traditions (Sunnah). Great! If I obey what is in the Book, I obey Allah. And if I follow the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, I obey the Messenger, continuing Divine guidance after the Prophet's passing.
Problem! Which set of reports contain the most reliable traditions of the Holy Prophet?
It is obvious. We simply cannot exclusively rely on the Qur'an without Muhammad's Prophetic input. Allah Himself through the Qur'an testifies to that fact. All of our questions and directions are not covered by the Qur'anic Text. Qur'an commands us to offer our prayers. But the Qur'an does not tell us how to offer the prayers. Do we hold our hands or drop them to the side? Can women lead prayers? Can women and men stand side by side in prayers? What is Wajib (compulsory)? What is forbidden? How can we know for sure?
Prayer is just one issue. There are also the issues of Zakat, Khums, private and public property, Hajj, fasting, at least fifty menstruation issues, what constitutes proof in prosecuting fornication, theft, rape, murder, etc.? When is homicide justifiable? How do you perform the wedding rites, burial rites, birth rites, etc.? The issues just go on, and on, and on. The Qur'an has no answer to any of these questions. During Muhammad's time, there issues were decided by him. His decisions were enshrined by Muslim scholars and clerics into books of sacred traditions (Hadith). But political/economic/social forces broke the original Muslim community into sects. There was only one Prophet, but there are over 100 contradictory "traditions" reported on some of these issues! There are over 200 variations of prayer in the four so-called "Sunni" schools of Islamic law alone! Where did all these "traditions" come from?
Adult Muslims, men and women, need to acquire a fair degree (at least) of political sophistication. The Muslim community was never, and is not now, a monolithic Shangri-La. Problems with opportunists, ego-centric narrow minded zealots, the spiritually weak, the gullible, and all kinds of criminals existed during Prophet's time. Allah gave the Prophet's community power. Ambitions rose like weeds in the hearts of the undeserving. The Muslim governments ceased being ruled by saintly men very early on. For the most part, whoever controls the government writes the history. In a theocracy, the party in charge builds the Masajid (mosques), and ego controls the pulpit. So how did so many traditions appear, contradicting one another?
Sultans, Shahs, kings, and other arrogant impotent potentates claimed to be the heirs to Prophet Muhammad's authority. Since they often lacked knowledge of Qur'an and Sunnah, they always made sure they tied the turban on somebody who would not get too big for his britches. And if they did, they were executed. Independent scholars who attracted a following were considered princely rivals and killed quickly, without ceremony, record or remorse. Most Muslims never knew the "go down". Loose ends were cut off and/or denied public access. Each one of the Top Eleven descendants of Prophet Muhammad, who were considered the Divinely-Chosen Imams (peace be upon them), was murdered!
Ali ibn Abu Talib was assassinated in the mosque during morning prayers in Ramadan by a lunatic fanatic. His other ten top descendants met their deaths at the hands of jealous Muslim rulers. Ali's son Hasan was assassinated by his own wife, who was an agent of the governor of Syria, Muawiyah (son of the Prophet's arch enemy Abu Sufyan). Muawiyah was Imam Ali's worst enemy. Muwayiah's son brutally butchered Imam Hussain, Hasan's brother, and almost all the males in his entire family! Yazid ibn Muawiyah ambushed Hussain's small entourage of 73 males and a few less females with a whole battalion (literally) of cavalry men. They were detained in the desert during summer, for three days deprived of food and water. They were then set upon and slaughtered. Seventy-two men, boys, and infants were murdered. The other top-ranked eight descendants were all poisoned in prison without fanfare, as most Muslim scholars who rise out of obscurity are murdered today – without remorse, record, or legitimate reason. The deed is most often done so quietly; it doesn't even make the papers.
In the meantime, "the monkeys" that the governments pay and train to become religious scholars and clerics keep right on guessing about these issues. They are not trained to know what the Prophetic Precedents. They are trained to lick the hand that feeds them. So each one is jealous of the other one. The ones that work in the Big Mosques are jealous of anyone who might compete for their fat cat cushy job. And the ones who work in the little mosques are envious of the fat cats and anyone who exhibits more brilliance than they do in Islamic learning and understanding (which is not usually too difficult).
Therefore, petty, jealous, government-sponsored, pseudo-intellectual, wannabe religious leaders are bogusly enshrined and continue to enshrine all kinds of personal opinions and pseudo-religious government policies as Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah. They suppress the people's natural curiosity and keep them ignorant and Qur'anically illiterate. These mosques are operated without dynamic programs or imaginative agencies designed to solve the people's problems of poverty, ignorance, disunity, and the intrusion on Islamic populations by anti-Islamic influences from both foreign and domestic sources.
In fact, the cleric caretakers of the Masjids act to opiate the people until the sultans, kings, and presidents need them to whip the people up to get involved in another "Jihad" to keep their profligate parties in power. Allah and His Prophet did not entrust these people with the reins of leadership (Imamah) of the Muslim community. They were usurped from their rightful owners by lovers of power who never hesitate to use murder, intrigue, and nationalistic rhetoric to accomplish their designs.
The Preservation of Prophet Muhammad's Traditions is the Most Important Function of the Office of the Imamah
We strongly assert that this God-appointed office was given to none other than Ali ibn Abu Talib. He in turn chose his successor (Imam Hasan ibn Ali) by God's order, and Imam Hasan chose his successor, Imam Hussain. Imam Hussain chose his successor, Imam Ali ibn Hussain, and so on, until the 12th Imam. Within these 12 houses, we find the Divine Light of the Prophetic Tradition. These men and their top students preserved the Prophetic Tradition despite near relentless government interference and brutal suppression. And today, since an Islamic Revolution based on the principles taught by these twelve houses toppled one of the world's oldest, richest, and most powerful, despotic monarchies on the planet, the Shah of Iran, the Saudi royal propaganda machine has launched an all-out attack on the Shias.
Five hundred thousand Shias lost their lives in Operation Desert Storm, and they never touched Saddam. The whole thing was a set up and engineered by the filthy oil "a-rich-a-crats," who saw themselves as next. So they staged a fictitious threat and sic-ed their well-paid Kafir Super Jinns on the followers of the Imam in southern Iraq. Kuwait was just bait. Saddam was never the target.
Saddam was an integral part of the set-up. Saddam and his elite forces who terrorized their own people for decades were never touched. They did, however, obliterate Saddam's Shia enemies on international television. The whole world watched, and they still don't know what happened. Can you imagine the Prophet Muhammad calling in the whole Kafir world to Arabia in order to defend himself from anybody? Yet Muslim clerics all over Arabia produced Hadiths showing the legitimacy of King Fat Head's action. The Muslims didn't even scratch their heads. This episode of the Muslims being hoodwinked to back might rather than right is just a continuation of what happened almost 1400 years ago.
After Imam Ali and Imam Hasan, the Muslim nation was ruled by the very same family whom Prophet Muhammad struggled against in Mecca and Medina. I am referring to none other than the infamous family of the arch statue worshiper Abu Sufyan. This is the same Abu Sufyan whose wife chewed on the liver of Prophet Muhammad's Uncle Hamza, whom she also had assassinated. This is the mother and father of the first Muslim dynasty, the Omayyad. How they rose to power, stepping over the corpses of the Prophet's family whom they murdered, is a lesson in Machiavellian tyranny.
Then the Family of Abbas rose to revenge Al-Hussain and restore the reins of power to the Holy Imam. Abbas was the youngest brother of Abu Talib. He apparently did not support the Prophet but rather supported Abu Sufyan until Mecca was conquered. He then became a Muslim. Opportunism? God knows.
All but two of the Omayyad chiefs were mercilessly executed. These two fled to Africa. The Abbasid forces gave chase but lost the trail in Egypt. These Abbasid forces founded the city of Cairo on the spot where they lost their escaped fugitives. The fugitives escaped to North Africa. There they founded the Moorish Omayyad Dynasty that ruled Spain for 800 years! A mosque was built on the spot where the Abbasid warriors congregated for Salat. This masjid was called Al-Azhar, after Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatimah Zahra (peace be upon her).
Unfortunately, the Abbasids reneged on their intention to restore the reins of power to the Imam. Though the Abbasids claimed to be Shia, the taste of power corrupted them to their core. The Imam (Ja'far as-Sadiq – founder of Islamic jurisprudence) was jailed and poisoned by his cousin, the Abbasid Commander. The four (so-called) Sunni Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafa'i, and Hanbal, were paid to contest with the Imam in an attempt to diminish his almost universal popularity. All four of these "Imams" were former students of the Imam!
Yes! It was the Imam-murdering, nepotistic Omayyads who paid a man from Bukhara to collect "Hadiths" from their paid agents. The most famous of these most often-quoted sources of Prophet's sayings and deeds was Abu Hurayra. Abu Hurayra, whose association with Prophet did not begin until after the battle of Khayber, was a fixture in the Omayyad palace in Syria. He was an active agent for Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, the governor of Syria and the arch enemy of Imam Ali and Imam Hasan ibn Ali.
One needs to study the life of Abu Hurayra. Many of the narrations he rendered and said he heard the Prophet say are true, but he could not have heard the Prophet say these things, because he was not even Muslim, nor did he live in Medina at the time! Many narrations he reports are flat out fiction to build up his employers, the Banu Omayya and/or put down Banu Hashim or the family of Abu Talib. Yet this man is the most often repeated source of "authentic" traditions!
In the meantime, wives of the Prophet like Umm Salamah, who was very close to the Holy Prophet and lived a very long time, were practically overlooked. Fizza, the Ethiopian companion of Fatimah, the greatest of all Hafizs (male or female), was ignored. Fatimah was ignored. All the grandsons of Prophet and their sons and daughters were ignored. All the Imams were ignored. All of their top students, whose dissertations, supplications, essays, and poems are the basis of classical Islamic culture, were ignored. With all these wells of wisdom ignored while ignoramuses like Abu Hurayra were raised to the level of infallibility by a government grateful for his "Uncle Tom" services, it is no wonder why ignorance dominates the Muslim psyche. Muslims acted and continue to act like Prophet never said:
"I am the City of Knowledge, and Ali is the Gateway to It."
It is very unwise to think that you are a Muslim who does not follow somebody's account of Prophet Muhammad's traditions. And it is equally unwise to follow a school of thought blindly, without knowledge of the pros and cons. Open your eyes, and wake up. Do not be stubborn and arrogant. We are never too young or too old to grow in knowledge. Only a fool refuses to face facts. Only a bigot prefers the false status quo to the unveiled Truth of a matter. There is no shame in not knowing. But there is great shame in not knowing because one has covered up his or her perception, so ignorance is shielded from the ego-annihilating effects of the Light of the Truth. It is big shame, and a bigger sin.
"As for those who cover their perception to truth, I will chastise them," says Allah. (Qur'an 3:56) "Cursed by the tongue of David were those from the Children of Israel who cover their perception of truth." (5:78) "And a party of the Children of Israel believed, and a party were those who cover their perception to truth." (61:14)
The issue that faces us is the same issue that faced the mosaic dispensation of Islam. Will we accept the Divinely-Guided Leadership of the Imams and their top students' account of the Prophet's traditions, or will we wallow in racist, tribal, nationalistic, cultural error, following lusts, rejecting curiosity and reason, condemning scholarship, and empowering murderers?
When truth is applied, falsehood must flee the way darkness flees from light. Only a Satan stands in defiance of the Evident Truth. And the Truth not only will withstand scrutiny. It invites scrutiny.
Shaikh Ali Abu Talib is a revert to Islam and a former student of Imam Mubarak Hassan, Sayyid Masoom Abidi, and Ayatollah Murtadha Qazwini. He is the co-founder and organizer of Jamaatul Muqeemoonas Salat, GrassRoots Calling, and the QINA (Qur'anic Institute Of North America) Projects.